This time a year ago, he was a virtual unknown.
He was the third of three quarterbacks on the Sun Devils’ depth chart.
He was not expected to play, let alone start in Todd Graham’s first season as head coach.
As the saying goes, what a difference a year makes.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for what Taylor (Kelly) has accomplished,” Graham said.
What the redshirt sophomore accomplished in his first season under center was help lead ASU to its most wins (8) since 2007, including victories over rival UA and Navy in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.
Of course, that was last year. This is this year.
“I got to keep pushing myself,” Kelly said. “I just got to keep that chip on my shoulder that I had last spring.”
Kelly carried that chip through the spring, into fall camp and all throughout a season in which he passed for more than 3,000 yards with 29 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He was second in the Pac-12 and seventh nationally in passing efficiency.
Graham though believes in competition, at every position.
“I think we proved that last year,” he said. “(Kelly has) got to earn it every day, just like any other position. I think our guys understand that. I love the fact that we have competition. That makes us better.”
Graham was then quick to add this about his returning quarterback, “He’s going to be a pretty tough guy to beat out. It’s not like it was last spring. When a guy has earned it on the field the way he has, he’s got to be beat out.”
Kelly, who is “trying a new look” with a beard, already feels light years ahead of where he was last year.
“I’m just a lot more comfortable in the pocket and getting an understanding of how guys are going to be out in their routes; [the] timing with Chris Coyle, Alonzo (Agwuenu), Rick Smith and Kevin Ozier,” Kelly said. “It’s a lot smoother.”
In addition to working with his receivers this off-season, Kelly said he worked on his footwork, studied defenses and re-watched film, especially of those five games (all loses) in which he threw an interception — something Graham reminds him of often.
“I do,” Kelly said when asked if he feels it’s his job to lose. “(Mike Bercovici and Michael Eubank) want this spot just as much as I do. I just got to keep performing and keep pushing myself every practice, every rep. You never know what happens so I got to play every rep as if it’s my last.”